As a serious and possibly catastrophic escalation of previous nuclear tests by the Kim Jong Un government, North Korea launched a ballistic missile without warning over Japan early Tuesday morning, the first time this has happened in five years. Japan ordered civilians to seek cover.
The launch, which was met with strong condemnation from Tokyo and Seoul, is the latest in a series of missile tests (there have been five in the previous 10 days) and follows on the heels of increased military exercises between the United States and its regional allies.
According to the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, the intermediate-range missile was fired from Mupyong-ri near North Korea’s central border with China at around 7:23 a.m. local time (JCS). According to Japanese authorities, it soared for approximately 20 minutes at a maximum height of 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) above the Tohoku area on the main island of Honshu before crashing into the Pacific Ocean around 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) from Japan’s coast.
Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida spoke out against the launch, calling the latest ballistic missile tests by North Korea “outrageous,” addressing reporters at his official home.
The test launch on Tuesday was the country’s twenty-third missile test of the year.
Japanese officials reported no damage to planes or boats in the missile’s path, but the unexpected launch prompted a rare J-alert, Japan’s emergency alert system.
Alarms are sent in times of crisis using sirens, local radio, and mobile devices. According to Japanese authorities, warnings were broadcast to residents of the Aomori prefecture, Hokkaido, and the Tokyo metropolitan area’s Izu and Ogasawara islands at around 7:30 a.m. local time on Tuesday.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s office tweeted for people to seek refuge in buildings and “not approach anything unusual that is spotted and to promptly alert the police or fire department.”
U.S. and South Korea denounce missile test
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol condemned the launch, calling it a “reckless” provocation, and said that his country’s armed forces and its allies will respond to North Korea with “decisive force.”
National Security Council spokesman Adrienne Watson said the test demonstrates North Korea’s “blatant disrespect for United Nations Security Council resolutions and international safety standards” and that the White House “strongly denounced” the move.
After the launch, the chairman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Kim Seung-kyum met with the commander of the United States Forces in Korea, Paul LaCamera, and they agreed to further enhance their unified defensive posture against any threats or provocations from North Korea.
A statement from US Indo-Pacific Command echoed this sentiment, stating the United States’ defense commitment to Japan and South Korea is “ironclad.”
Regular missile testing is a component of North Korea’s aim to keep its nuclear weapons, according to Ankit Panda, a senior scholar in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
He added that “risk reduction” to prevent an escalation of the crisis should be the current priority because “it is quite possible that the United States, South Korea, and Japan will take away a message from this missile test that North Korea is continuing to assert itself to show that it has the ability to deliver nuclear weapons to targets including the US territory of Guam.”
There would be less alternatives for the United States and South Korea to respond or control escalation with North Korea if such a crisis were to unfold, he added, since “it would unfold under a substantially more sophisticated North Korean nuclear capacity.”